Monday, June 15, 2015

BLUE MIND :: Wallace J. Nichols

This review originally ran over at Jen's Book Thoughts in September 2014, not long after Blue Mind was first published. The book was important to me and I didn't have a blog at the time and Jen was kind enough to run my thoughts on her site. Now that I do have my own writing space and the paperback edition of Blue Mind is coming on July 21, I wanted to run the review again. The book has some relevant messages, not just for those of us who have a "blue mind" but for everyone who has concern for our environment and well-being. I've changed the review a little bit to fit the current format here at the MAR, but otherwise here it is in all its original glory, with another huge "Thank you!" to Jen:

I was raised on and in the water: swimming, sailing, bodysurfing, you name it. To this day, when driving home I feel a weight lift from my shoulders as I hit the final turn that takes me along the water. I’ve always known a connection to water is my thing, I had no idea it was a thing. A thing with some pretty spectacular science behind it.

I woke up to the science of water's impact on all of us when I spied a book with a beautiful splash of vibrant blue water on the cover sitting on a bookstore shelf and was immediately attracted to it (blue mind at work!). The book was Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. Blue Mind's mouthful of a subtitle highlights the author's theory that the science and study of our love of water has:

significant real-world applications -- for health, travel, real estate, creativity, childhood development, urban planning, the treatment of addiction and trauma, conservation, business, politics, religion, architecture, and more. 

In Blue Mind, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols explores these applications from two fronts: head and heart. The heart part may be obvious to water lovers, though I have found it fascinating to be more mindful of my connection with water since reading the book (I've realized it impacts my attraction to art, media, clothing, environment, you name it). The brain part is intellectually challenging, but you will shine at your next cocktail party as you drop facts about the prefrontal cortex, evolutionary biology, and neruoimaging.

Put simply, Blue Mind is "a mildly meditative state characterized by calm...and a sense of general happiness..inspired by water and elements associated with water." It can be contrasted with Red Mind, "an edgy high, characterized by stress, anxiety, fear, and maybe even a little bit of anger and despair."

Red Mind's physiological stress responses evolved to help us survive; essential tools for escaping predators, and finding and fighting for food and mates. We need Red Mind. But today, the many non-life-threatening stressors we face in daily living activate the same biological responses. We're "drowning in a sea of overstimulation." Stress hormones keep us in an agitated state. The answer? Finding a way to reach a Blue Mind state. Finding water.

It makes sense that our need and ability to sense and locate near water is hardwired into our DNA. But that doesn't completely explain our emotional attachment to water. Why does nature, water in particular, make us happy?

"Time and time again, researchers have discovered that proximity to water strengthens the positive effects that environment has upon well-being." Scientifically speaking, Blue Mind is filled with fascinating studies correlating well-being with water. The highest increase in happiness in outdoor environments occurred in people near water. In fact, just being able to see nature has incredible benefits, and the "best" nature has water in it.

Even indirect exposure to water has been shown to help patients recuperate faster. In one study, heart patients were shown one of three scenes on a panel at the foot of their bed: a forest, open water, or an abstract/blank. Patients looking at the nature panels needed less pain meds and had lower anxiety levels. Even more fascinating, improvements were significantly greater in patients looking at water than those looking at the forest. Simply looking at pictures of water causes our brains to shift to Blue Mind mode. Great news for those of you who don't enjoy being in the water.

On the heart side of the Blue Mind equation, Dr. Nichols presents countless examples of the therapeutic impact of water on what ails us: addiction, autism, and PTSD to name a few. Particularly impactful is the story of an injured veteran who traveled to California to take part in Operation Surf, a surf camp specifically designed for veterans. He later disclosed to the group he had come simply to cross surfing off his bucket list, at which point he intended to return home and kill himself. Surfing not only changed his life, it saved his life.

Could that veteran have discovered and been saved by knitting? Perhaps. But he was saved by water. The "[g] oal [of attaining Blue Mind] is not to turn people into surfers, but to change brain chemistry. The chemicals that respond to activities like surfing have positive effects on how people deal with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues." Heart and science.

What, ultimately, is the point of Blue Mind, other than encouraging us to all get in and near the water, to find our own Blue Mind? Based on past experience, the author hopes increased awareness might also awaken our social responsibilities. Hopefully, "the recognition...transforms our sense of responsibility and renovates our list of priorities. Greater self-understanding leads to better choices that lead to a better future - choices that preserve the natural world and increase the chance for more access to the Blue Mind." Dr. Nichols wishes us all water. Read Blue Mind and see if you don't feel the same.

STREET SENSE:  If you feel a connection to water and want to understand more about why, this is your book. If you're interested in how water impacts all of us in work, play, stress, relaxation, rescue, and recovery, this is your book. If you wonder how water saves people, this is your book. If you get a chance to see J. speak, do so, he's an engaging, welcoming, and fascinating individual. Or attend one of the Blue Mind summits taking place in North America and beyond, something I'd love to do one day.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: One of my favorites was really just one line, but it requires context. Dr. Nichols took a a group of young Native American teens who live in the Sonoran Desert to the Gulf of California. Many of them had never seen the ocean before, and had no idea what to expect. They were provided masks and snorkels and set loose to explore. When asked how it was going, one young boy answered: "I can't see anything." Despite the snorkeling instructions, he had been keeping his eyes closed underwater. Dr. Nichols reminded him to keep his eyes open, which he did the next time he went under. Then he stood up and exclaimed about all the fish he was able to see. Laughing and crying, he shouted:

"My planet is beautiful!"

COVER NERD SAYS: If you want an example of Blue Mind at work, here it is. I saw Blue Mind on a shelf, immediately grabbed it, and felt/knew I had to have it. I didn't even know what it was. I just knew that splash of blue water on the front resonated with my core. Thankfully, the content of the book was something I was interested in, otherwise I'd just have a pretty book on my shelf. Needless to say, as simple as it is, I like this cover a whole bunch.

No comments:

About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


  © Blogger templates Newspaper by 2008

Back to TOP